Everyone’s always looking for the next breakout candidate in fantasy football to lead them to a championship. But, flying under the radar are several players who were once considered breakouts who find themselves further from the top of draft boards following a disappointing season. The following players fall into this category and are better known as post-hype sleepers.
To get scientific, a post-hype sleeper is considered someone who entered a season with high expectations, only to fall short of said expectations. Subsequently, his draft stock plummets so much that he starts to become a value at his new Average Draft Position. Post-hype sleepers can be some of the biggest sources of value in fantasy football. Specifically, if a players’ situation hasn’t changed much (or has gotten better) from the prior season, then the discount could be even more beneficial.
In this article, I go through my favorite post-hype sleepers for 2020 and make the case for why they can bounce back. While some are seeing more of a discount than others, I still believe that each of these players has a great chance not only of outproducing his ADP, but also returning to the levels we once thought he could reach in 2019.
|Player||2019 Positional ADP||2019 Positional Finish||2020 Positional ADP|
|Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)||QB4||QB19||QB15|
|Todd Gurley (RB – ATL)||RB10||RB14||RB16|
|David Montgomery (RB – CHI)||RB18||RB25||RB27|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)||WR5||WR66||WR13|
|Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU)||WR14||WR62||WR38|
|T.J. Hockenson (TE – DET)||TE14||TE31||TE16|
Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)
If there’s a poster boy for post-hype sleepers this year, it ought to be Baker Mayfield. As you’ll remember, the Browns, Mayfield included, entered the 2019 season with a mountain of expectations, only to fall flat on their faces. However, there’s reason to believe that Mayfield can turn it around this year.
Last year, Mayfield faced one of the toughest schedules for quarterbacks, so that difficulty in opponents is likely to regress. Even with a lackluster offensive line, Mayfield posted a 40.6 completion percentage under pressure, the sixth-best mark in the league (per RotoUnderworld).
Outside of the schedule, the only thing that’s different about Mayfield’s situation between last year and this year is the team’s head coach (and that they added a Pro Bowl tight end in Austin Hooper). It’s hard to get worse than what Freddie Kitchens did last year, and new head coach Kevin Stefanski will have a full offseason to prepare with all of Mayfield’s primary weapons. While people may be scared off of Mayfield because of how much Kevin Stefanski ran the ball last year, Kirk Cousins still finished as the 15th-ranked quarterback in 2019.
Want to hear the odd stuff that we come across in research as a #fantasyfootball analyst?
– Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) July 22, 2020
Murphy’s Law hit hard for the Browns last year, so if they’re able to improve even slightly I’m confident Mayfield can outplay his QB15 ADP.
Todd Gurley (RB – ATL)
Todd Gurley has had quite a fall from grace. Once the highest-paid running back in the league and MVP candidate, he now finds himself hoping for a resurgence playing in the state where he dominated the college ranks. While Gurley isn’t your prototypical post-hype sleeper, he still fits the bill because of the history he’s had as a fantasy star, finishing as the number one running back in 2017 and 2018.
One reason for the drop in his ADP is the ongoing injury concerns. Drafters continue to discount Gurley because of his arthritic knee, and rightfully so. While that should be a concern, keep in mind that he’s only missed four regular-season games in the last three years.
But now, as mentioned earlier, Gurley has a new home where he’ll likely play the role of a workhorse back once again. Another major contributing factor to Gurley’s demise last year was his lack of work in the passing game – he had only 31 receptions last year, his lowest since his rookie season. But, it would take just over a 12% target share for Gurley to see 80 targets using Atlanta’s two-year average of pass attempts. This is a more than reasonable projection given the fact that they have 258 vacated targets to fill, the most in the NFL.
Gurley will immediately step in as the workhorse running back for the Falcons and take Devonta Freeman’s role in the offense. With only Brian Hill, Ito Smith, and Qadree Ollison – who have a combined 243 career rushing attempts – competing for touches, Gurley is locked in for a major workload so long as he can stay healthy.
David Montgomery (RB – CHI)
As mediocre as David Montgomery’s rookie season was from a fantasy football perspective, he showed plenty of reasons why he can thrive as a fantasy football asset. First of all, he was trusted with a near-workhorse role. His 242 carries were tied for 13th last year and he was used at an extremely high rate when the Chicago Bears got close to the goal-line.
Second, the Bears trusted him when they got close to the goal line. They gave him 14 carries inside the five-yard line, which accounted for 87.5 percent of the Bears’ such carries (the second-highest rate in the league). It’s apparent that Montgomery warrants the rushing workload as he forced 28 broken tackles, the sixth most among running backs.
In a recent article from Mike Tagliere, he pointed out that Montgomery was among the top running backs in fantasy points below expectation. In fact, if he had performed at expectation, he would have been the RB15 last season, instead of the RB25 that he actually was. Montgomery was one of the least efficient red zone rushers, finishing with just over a 35 percent success rate on carries inside the 20.
Opportunities inside the 5-yard-line
Aaron Jones: 15
David Montgomery: 15
Opportunities inside the 10-yard-line
Aaron Jones: 23
David Montgomery: 23
Aaron Jones: 19
David Montgomery: 7
– Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) July 23, 2020
Unfortunately, Montgomery’s receiving ceiling is capped with the presence of Tarik Cohen, but I’ll take the high-level workload where he’s going in drafts, regardless of where it comes from.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)
Heading into 2019, Smith-Schuster was seen as a late-first or early-second round draft pick. Now he’s fallen all the way to the end of the third round. This one really hurts because I had invested a lot into Smith-Schuster having another major breakout in his first season without Antonio Brown. Mixed with injuries and lackluster quarterback play, however, JuJu Smith-Schuster finished as the WR66 in half-PPR leagues.
That said, Smith-Schuster is seeing a rather large drop that may be overblown, considering his 2019 campaign was caused by several factors entirely out of his control. Given his pedigree entering his third season, Smith-Schuster was rightfully being drafted in the first round in 2019. In fact, only Randy Moss and Josh Gordon posted more receiving yards before age 23 in NFL history.
The emergence of and hype surrounding second-year receiver Diontae Johnson may also be contributing to this ADP dip, but Smith-Schuster is still the number one option in that offense and should be drafted as such. Not only is Juju bound to bounce-back, but there’s also reason to believe that the Steelers as a whole will return to being an efficient offense.
Last year, the Steelers also took a major step back in terms of passing volume, which hurt the entire aerial attack. After averaging 39 pass attempts per game from 2016 to 2018, Pittsburgh averaged just under 32 pass attempts per game in 2019. If it can get back to throwing closer to league average, which was about 36 attempts per game last year, those extra passes should benefit Smith-Schuster.
Like I said earlier, it’s hard to fault Juju for the season he had last year, so why are we drafting him so much differently than we were in 2019? Draft him this year and reap the benefits!
Brandin Cooks (WR – HOU)
Death, taxes, and Brandin Cooks starting the season with a new team – all of these are constants in our world. For the third time in four years, Cooks finds his way onto a new team after being traded in the offseason. However, his changing teams hasn’t been for lack of production – he entered the 2019 season with four straight seasons of at least 65 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards.
Now, he joins one of the league’s best young quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson as a potential replacement for DeAndre Hopkins. We have no idea how the chemistry between Watson and Cooks will be impacted by this wacky offseason we’re going through, but Hopkins’ departure leaves plenty of opportunities for Cooks to return to his old form.
While Cooks has often been seen as a deep threat, he may be better suited than teammate Will Fuller to take over Hopkins’ role. In his time with Houston, Hopkins’ average depth of target (aDOT) has hovered around 12 yards. On the other hand, Fuller has been closer to 15 yards (only two seasons in the past four with under a 15.5 aDOT) and Cooks is around a 13.5 aDOT (with only one season above 14 yards in the past four).
Hit me deep I’m open!
Per @PFF data only one active WR in the NFL has generated > two steps of separation on 8+ targets multiple times since 2015.
All three seasons >=25% of deep targets classified as open.
– Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) August 1, 2020
If not for suffering two concussions last season, Cooks may have made it five straight seasons with 1,000 yards to start his career. He’s now had five concussions in his career, which is enough to worry someone about drafting him. That said, with an eighth-round ADP, his ceiling is limitless while the cost to draft him is as about as low as you can get for someone with his potential.
T.J. Hockenson (TE – DET)
Last year, T.J. Hockenson burst onto the scene with six receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in his first career game. Sadly, that was about all he did in his rookie season as he had more the 50 receiving yards in only one other game and ended the season on the Injured Reserve because of an ankle injury.
While his ADP this year isn’t drastically different from last year, the expectations for Hockenson have certainly changed after a lackluster rookie campaign.
Even though Hockenson didn’t produce from a fantasy football perspective, he was still one of the league’s top tight ends in several metrics. First, according to PFF, he finished sixth in yards after catch per reception and 16th in yards per route run, among tight ends.
Another big factor in tight end production is the number of routes run, as this signifies whether they’re being used as a pass-catcher or as a blocker. Last year, Hockenson averaged 23.9 routes run per game, which was 17th among tight ends with at least 10 games played. Though it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, George Kittle ran 24.1 routes run per game.
Other notable TEs and their ranks:
13. Hockenson: 0.2
T14. Hooper: 0.19
T14. Henry: 0.19
26. Fant: 0.16
27. Gesicki: 0.15
– Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen) August 5, 2020
Finally, Hockenson garnered a 10.9 percent target market share, when healthy – again, not terrible usage for a tight end. All of these indicate that, if healthy and earning a target share slightly above last year’s, Hockenson could turn it around in his second season and reward fantasy football drafters.
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with 10 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Fantasy Football Draft or head to more advanced strategy – like When is it Okay to Reach on Draft Day? – to learn more.